BELIZE CITY, Tues. Apr. 18, 2017–There is, and can only be, one Holy Saturday Cross Country Cycling Classic. I say this because I hear many people saying, “Let’s have one with the foreigners and one without.” If you asked all the cyclists in Belize, I bet that almost 100% would vote for foreign participation. Any Belizean who won a Cross Country without the foreigners would be ridiculed, and would himself feel empty. Local riders want to compete and beat the foreigners. That Pandora’s Box has been opened and can’t be closed.
Now, let me give you some insight from someone who has been in this sport from 1980, and who is on the road training daily with the Belizeans. First of all, the foreign competition invited this year was sub-par to the riders we have invited in the past. Remember, only the Cycling Federation can invite FOREIGNERS, and they do a good job ensuring that the playing field is level by no longer inviting the TOP QUALITY RIDERS. These riders they invite SHOULD be beaten.
This year, 64 Belizeans lined up and 18 foreigners. Of those 18, you can discount the entire Quintana Roo and Cancun teams, with the exception of Rudy Rincon. The remaining 6 riders were just making up numbers, and didn’t even finish. The 4-man American team invited are all Master riders, way past their prime. A rider’s best years are from about 26 years to 33, maximum. Three of the 4 Americans are over 40. The 2nd place finisher, Patrick Raines is 48; Chris Harkey is 46; David Flynn is 43; and John Delong is the youngest at 38. Contrary to rumors being circulated, these men are not professional riders, and all have full time jobs just like some of the Belizeans do. In fact, many of the Belizeans don’t. The Jamaican Anthony Taylor is 57, for crying out loud, and did not finish this year. Bill Elliston, who won in 2005 when he was 36, is now 48. The difference is, these men TRAIN. They don’t dodge or cheat their training, and that is because many of them live in cold cities where training requires much more dedication. Of the 3 Guatemalans that came, Giovanni Sam played no role, and did not even finish the race. The only 2 foreign riders that may be above the level of the Belizeans are the Champion, Alejandro Padilla and Alder Torres; and it is not that they are better than us; it is simply that they were coached better, and had more conditioning than the local riders, because they put in the TIME required.
Belizean cyclists are lazy and, with the exception of a handful, cheat their training. On Saturdays and Sundays when most cyclists worldwide do their endurance rides, and when in past years Kenrick Halliday, Alpheus Williams, JawMeighan, Michael & Charlie Lewis and past Belizean champions were doing many rides to Cayo and back in preparation for the Cross Country, and one of the main reasons they won, this new bunch are content with “wahn lee 60 miles,” less than half the distance of the Cross Country. They also party way too much. Cycling is about dedication and sacrifice. We want the reward without the sacrifice.
Finally, I believe the race could still have been won; but was badly coached. The SMART Team, whom I was personally supporting, had Brandon Cattouse, my favorite cyclist, Ron Vasquez and Oscar Quirós in that final break. When that break solidified, after catching Alder Torres on the way back to Belize, I would have SPELLED IT OUT crystal clear to both Ron Vasquez and Oscar Quirós, “You will ride for Brandon, no questions asked.” However, they all wanted to win, and as a consequence lost the race.
When I had my team, I made it clear to them who were the 2 riders in each race: Option 1 and Option 2. I then made the call after the race developed, assisted for many years by Fitzgerald Palas Joseph, who at 50 rode a great race today, because he trained. When Marlon Castillo crashed in 2013, he was Option 1; I then told the team to ride for Darnell Barrow, Option 2, who won the Cross Country that year.
I agree that a National Team would be nice; but it is a very expensive venture. Government would have to be prepared to shell out quarter million dollars yearly, minimum, for a 10-man team. Despite that, if they ride selfish, they still won’t win. Alejandro Padilla won today because one teammate, Alder Torres was willing to sacrifice and settle for the lesser position, giving Padilla the victory and all the glory. That is a hard thing to do; but has to be done if a Belizean wants to win. Many Belizean teams are just wearing the same jersey, and until they learn to be a true teammate, and TRAIN, the results will be the same.
(Sports Ed. Note: By Santino’s own words, “The only 2 foreign riders that may be above the level of the Belizeans are the Champion, Alejandro Padilla and Alder Torres…” May be? Considering that both gentlemen are Guatemalans, and one was already the defending champion, could it be that the Cycling Federation vetting team shares some fault in our 2017 Holy Saturday repeat heartbreak?)